On Vulnerability, Loss, and Synonymous Courage

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it… You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive.” –Martha Graham

To be vulnerable is to be weak. Or so they say.

Vulnerability is also something I’ve been thinking about in the wake of my Master’s defense and the loved ones my family lost over the winter.

This connotation though, this idea of “weakness”… that’s what it seems media and society dictates the term vulnerable to be. Why be vulnerable when that means you are weak? We crave the comfort of certainty and answers. We stray away from uncertainty because that creates vulnerability. It’s a vicious cycle of trying to numb uncomfortable emotions.

But the funny thing about emotions is that they are all connected. In trying to numb fear or sadness, we numb joy and gratitude in the process. Life is a spectrum, but we try to pretend it’s not.

Just look at how religion has changed from faith to fact, or how politics are debated with black and white—not conversation or dialogue. We even witness the avoidance of vulnerability when people take action on the internet and not in person. There is an accompanying anonymity that can immediately recall self-agency from action. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; as we have seen in cases like Bat Kid in San Francisco or the father who pleaded for his deceased son’s Facebook lifetime video, calls to action on the internet can be an absolutely glorious connection of humanity. But it’s important to note that most effective calls to action on the internet start with vulnerability—an uncertain idea for a child, an utter display of raw emotion from a father to the world. And in this vulnerability, fantastic things have happened.

I suppose, in this stream of consciousness, I want to talk about how vulnerability can actually be a good thing. That it should carry with it a positive connotation that rivals courage. That it means human connection at its best and most raw state. That it can change the way we live in amazing ways. To be vulnerable is to put yourself outwards, to establish yourself in an area that can be judged, but to do it for the best of yourself and others around you. Ultimately, that aspect being vulnerable is perhaps more courageous than traditional acts of heroism. You can hurt others, but also hurt yourself—you could have your heart broken, or break someone else’s—there are all of these risks involved.

But if we take a step back for a second and look at what we often consider things that make us vulnerable, they are also often things that make life worth living. Individuality, love, friendship. Firstly, to openly communicate, to express the self, is a massive step for anyone to take—you’re putting yourself out there, taking the risk of judgment and belittlement. But in doing so, you’re also initiating an immediate connection to who you are with others. If we look at the etymology of the word “courage,” it literally means to express the story of your heart. Telling your story, honestly, allows you explore who you are as a person both in the context of you as an individual and those around you. It means to be true when it seems so much easier to be false. It means you are being honest to those around you, regardless of their judgment. And that, in itself, is honorable.

Open communication allows us to avoid passive aggressive behavior, to address issues as they come, to display emotions, to clarify, to seek help. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about in the wake of Leanne’s suicide. As well as Kenneth’s my freshman year of college. And my Godmother’s, the day before I graduated from college. Naturally, when dealing with these situations, the question of “what if?” comes into play. But I can’t help but think, perhaps on both ends, if we were all more open with each other, with being vulnerable, it would also be easier to help one another. More often than not, what we endure internally is hidden from view. It makes us vulnerable to make them external, but it also opens us up to others.

In the end, it all comes down to how, as a species, we are socially driven by our genes. We strive and find purpose in human connections. But in making connections and forming relationships we also carry the weight of being vulnerable. Of uncertainty. Of taking risks. Will these relationships last?  What if they dislike me? How will I be judged for this? There is nothing easy about putting your heart on the table in any context, be in friendship, relationships, or defending two years of Master’s research. But these things provide purpose. In the end, to be vulnerable is to be alive—courageously living to the best of possibilities. To not be vulnerable, to not be yourself, is a loss for the world.

*On the mention of suicide in this post, please don’t be afraid to talk to people. Anyone really. If you feel as though you know someone who is planning to attempt it or you sometimes think of it yourself,  just take the time to talk. You can also call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at the Suicide Prevention Hotline

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